We have all heard “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” so it may seem like no matter how much we try to plan our season we are at the whim of many unknown circumstances. One could argue this is even more of a reason to put a plan together. If it is commonly accepted that plans will fall apart, imagine how chaotic your building season will be if you do not try to plan. I think the most important part here is to set a plan or a schedule and build in some days that allow for these unforeseen circumstances. Part of planning is also realizing some of the ugly truths about yourself and your abilities.
One of the first things you should build into your schedule is an office day. We all know this is not the best day because it does not feel as productive as build days. It could be argued that this is the most important day in your schedule. Make sure you set some time aside each week to revisit your schedule, compare your materials prices to what you are going to invoice the customer. If you have a handle on your job costs you will also be able to present these changes in price to your customer in a timely manner. Not all material price changes require you making price changes but I think we are all pretty aware of how volatile the wood market has been the last couple years and for that reason you should have already built a clause into your contract that will allow you to revise this price if your price changes a certain percentage. If you present the price change early it will be seen as information and your customer will have time to make an informed decision before you install the materials. If you install the material and then ask the customer to pay the extras they will feel obligated or pressured into buying it because you have a contract that says you can do that. It will feel uncomfortable for the customer. With your office day you will notice the price increase before any material is installed allowing you to chat with the customer about it and leaving everyone in a better mood. By using these office days you may also be able to determine if you have guys that are costing you more than they are worth. You may think one of your guys is great but when you leave them alone it turns out they take twice as long to do the job as you had allowed or when you are working with them. No one likes being “big brother” but you need to know how productive your team is and this will help you understand your profitability. Finally, think about how great your year end will be when you have spent 52 days already preparing your books. Your accounting bill will be reduced, you will not dread the idea of meeting with them and you will likely already have a great idea of how your year went so you can make informed decisions at the end of your fiscal year that will affect your taxes.
Building in days for chaos will keep you on track. We all know that during the build something will come up, materials delayed, foundation or ground was not what we anticipated or any number of things popped up professionally or personally and you needed more time than you had allowed. When you start to plan the one day of overages you will be setting yourself up for success. Not only will you allow yourself to complete that job on time but you will charge accordingly. You will also have customers that are anticipating more accurate timelines. Some guys have detailed spreadsheets for estimating jobs but I think we can all agree that at the end of the day everyone bases this off an idea of what they would like to make per day. If you constantly think you can build a deck in 4 days but it takes you 5 you give up 25% of that profit. Start adding the extra day in so you can make some money. With this day built in you put less stress on yourself and the customer.
Have you planned a holiday? In summer your family will want to spend some time outside with you. Be sure to take that time. I read an article recently that reminded me the biggest mistake people make in life is they thought they had more time. Soon your kids will be too busy for you or your health will fail you. You have the time right now, you just need to schedule it in and make sure you don’t forget about the people that supported you to get here. A scheduled break could look like golfing on Wednesday afternoon with your daughter or riding dirt bikes with your son on Saturday morning. It does not necessarily need to be a week away. If all your customers decide to not pay you, your family will still support you. The break will help recharge you and your customers will see that. You are more productive when you come to work recharged. If you have a crew, they may be able to help you remain productive at this time away too. It is nice to be able to leave and not have to worry about work and if you do a good job of building a plan for the guys, discussing some possible problems as well as solutions to those problems, you should be able to leave. Maybe you have an agreed upon time that you will check in with your team but make sure they know you want the break and they should respect that. Just like you would respect their time away.
As you learn how to build these days in, and as you start to really watch your schedule you will see some patterns that will help you become a stronger business owner, a better family member and a better contractor. We are all trying to be better each day and setting a schedule and working to maintain that schedule will help make you more reliable and if this industry could use anything it could use a few more reliable people.